There is a little “department store” tucked behind St. Peter Church in Vergennes that sells — at thrift store prices — everything from clothing to jewelry to housewares to toys to greeting cards.

The sections are all neatly organized and defined with tasteful seasonal displays.

St. Peter’s Closet serves a variety of regular and one-time shoppers from those with specific needs to those shopping for just the right bargain.

And all the profits go to local non-profit community partners that assist people in need and to emergency aid distributed through the parish.

“We need this is the community,” said customer and volunteer Diane Barrows of Vergennes. “The prices are right, and it’s good quality” merchandise.

Most of the clothing sells for less than $5, many of the boots for $8 or less. Jeans cost about $5, and a Land’s End winter jacket was priced at $8. How about scarves for $3-$4 or greeting cards for 10 cents?

The shop is run by volunteers who collect, clean, display and sell the merchandise.

Begun nearly a generation ago by women of the parish, St. Peter’s Closet is a longstanding ministry of the church. “The volunteers before us had spirit, energy and commitment that they modeled for us,” said volunteer Catherine Dieman of St. Peter Parish.

The thrift store had to close during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic but reopened in June.

In just five months, the operation raised nearly $7,000.

In addition to the benefit of raising funds for people in need, St. Peter’s Closet is a place where support, camaraderie and friendship can be found for both the customers and the volunteers. “You get to know them and what they need or want,” volunteer Amy Driscoll of St. Ambrose Parish in Bristol said of the customers.

St. Peter parishioner Jodi Fearon enjoys helping people and is a good organizer, so the thrift store was a good place for her to volunteer. Recently retired school nurse Marianna Boivin of St. Peter Church was looking for “something meaningful to do” and was delighted to find the thrift shop was a place she could help.

Driscoll wanted to “do something good for the community” that also offered camaraderie with other women who shared her Catholic beliefs. St. Peter’s Closet fit the bill.

Fearon said “resale is quite hip right now” for hobbyists, bargain hunters and those seeking to help the environment by buying used rather than new.

What they buy is “a good deal for them while helping” others, Boivin said.

Deb Emerson of Vergennes volunteers to wash merchandise before it is put on the racks. “I believe in the purpose” of the shop to help others, she said, calling her efforts “worthwhile.”

The St. Peter’s Closet team is hoping to collaborate with the Knight of Columbus to make religious gifts and cards available at the shop, just in time for Christmas.

—Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.